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Windows 7 gets an outside tester: The government

Microsoft has given regulators an early version of Windows 7, the company noted in a court filing last week.

The headline was updated at 3 p.m. to note that it is several states, not the U.S. department of Justice, that are overseeing the compliance of Vista and future Windows versions with the consent decree.

Microsoft has said precious little about Windows 7, but it has provided at least one outsider with an early test version of the forthcoming operating system.

The software maker confirmed in a court filing last week that it has provided a test version of Windows 7 to the technical committee helping to oversee Microsoft's compliance with the U.S. antitrust settlement.

Windows 7 crops up about a third of the way through the 21-page joint status report, initially with Microsoft noting that the technical committee would like to see an unspecified issue addressed in Windows 7.

"In addition, the (Technical Committee) has begun to review Windows 7 itself," Microsoft and regulators said in the filing. "Microsoft recently supplied the TC with a build of Windows 7, and is discussing TC testing going forward. The TC will conduct middleware-related tests on future builds of Windows 7."

The Windows 7 mention was not a major topic at last week's court hearing, but did get noticed this week by Information Week and others. (Note: While the federal court retains oversight of the U.S.-Microsoft antitrust case, the federal Department of Justice is no longer evaluating whether Windows XP, Windows Vista and future versions are in compliance with the consent decree. Several states and the Technical Committee are still evaluating Windows, hence the Windows 7 access provided to the committee.)

Microsoft has not said when Windows 7 will arrive, nor said much about what features it will contain, though Bill Gates said in a recent interview with CNET that Windows 7 is "a big step forward" in speech recognition and other natural interfaces.

Also of note in the status filing is the fact that Phoenix Technologies, which makes the firmware that helps computers boot up, had complained about Microsoft's Vista licensing terms, which limited which versions of Vista could run inside a virtual machine.

"After discussions with Plaintiff States and the TC, Microsoft agreed to remove the EULA (end-user license agreement) restrictions and has done so," Microsoft said in the filing. "This change has been widely reported and well-received in the trade press."

The thing is, Microsoft made no mention of Phoenix's complaint when it announced the change in January.

"Now is the right time, we believe, to make it easier for technical experience and see if virtualization is right for them," group product manager Patrick O'Rourke said in a telephone interview when the change was announced.

ZDNet blogger Mary Jo Foley notes that Microsoft has strained its credibility recently by announcing moves and then later disclosing outside pressures that might have influenced the moves. In another example, Microsoft announced a series of interoperability principles in February, only to be hit with a record fine from the EU a week later.

Asked about the timing, CEO Steve Ballmer told CNET in an interview that Microsoft knew the EU fines were coming when it made the interoperability announcement, but maintained they related to past non-compliance and that Microsoft believed it was already in compliance prior to that announcement.

Click here for more news on Windows 7.